Brittney Griner Released from Russian Prison

Stephen Andrews
08 Dec 2022

U.S. basketball star Brittney Griner has been released from Russian imprisonment. President Joe Biden has confirmed the news. Griner was reportedly swapped in a prisoner exchange with convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.

"Moments ago I spoke to Brittney Griner," Biden tweeted on Thursday. "She is safe. She is on a plane. She is on her way home."

Biden reportedly gave final approval for the prisoner swap freeing Griner last week. Once he obtained a confirmation that the exchange was taking place, the president informed Griner's wife, Cherelle, in a joint call with Vice President Kamala Harris and Secretary of State Antony Blinken. 

Biden was "personally involved and in constant touch" with the team arranging the prisoner swap. The briefings and questions Biden asked his team were constant, a senior administration official said. 

It is known that an unsuccessful effort was made to include another American citizen that the State Department has declared wrongfully detained, Paul Whelan. However, the official said that this was the right deal to make and "the only deal we could make right now."

The Russian foreign ministry confirmed on Thursday (Dec. 8) that Bout has returned home after the prisoner swap with Griner was "completed successfully at Abu Dhabi Airport" earlier in the day.

Viktor Bout is also known as the "Merchant of Death," a former Soviet military officer convicted in the U.S. on charges of conspiring to kill Americans, acquire and export anti-aircraft missiles, and provide material support to a terrorist organization. He was condemned to a 25-year prison sentence. 

Griner has for years played in the off-season for a Russian women's basketball team. She was detained in February at an airport in Moscow after officials found cannabis vape cartridges in her luggage. 

In August, she was sentenced to nine years in prison after she pleaded guilty to drug smuggling charges, but she denied the intent to break the law. Subsequently, she was transferred to a penal colony in Mordovia country, a Russian federal subject in the southeast, to serve her sentence. 

Before her conviction, Griner wrote a personal emotional letter to the president pleading for his help for her to regain her freedom. 

Brittney Griner released from Russian prison.
President Joe Biden and Cherelle Griner at the White House.
Stephen Andrews